I’ve talked before about the balancing act required when you write, but today’s featured author, T.A. Hernandez, takes the cake. She answers my questions below about how she does it as a writer, a mother, a beta reader, and a student, and shares some original artwork and info on her books below.
Let’s start with a little bit about you. When and why did you begin writing?
I began writing when I was about ten or eleven, but it wasn’t until I was fourteen that I started trying to figure out how to tell better stories. My family had just moved from Southern California to a small town in Idaho with a population of 300 (no, I am not missing a digit there), and that first year was very hard for me. I was angry at everyone and everything, and writing was a sort of escape that I desperately needed at the time.
Are you a pantser or plotter?
I’m definitely a plotter and my first drafts work out a lot better when I start with a detailed outline. However, I also believe it’s important to allow yourself some flexibility, especially with first drafts. If I get to a certain scene and realize it’s not working out the way I had intended, I’m totally open to changing things up as needed.
So you’re a writer, a mother of two, and a college student. You know I have to ask: how do you balance school, family and writing? How do the other aspects of your life inspire your writing?
It’s definitely a balancing act and it isn’t easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is. I think the key is that I’ve made writing a priority. School and family are obviously priorities, too. But whenever I find myself with a little spare time, I’m usually writing. I often write in between classes or while I’m trying to get dinner ready for my family. I brainstorm while I’m on the bus. I also stay up late most nights to get a little writing or art done after my kids have gone to bed.
My kids have definitely inspired some future picture books, so that’s pretty awesome. School has also been a surprisingly big influence. I’m a social work major, so a lot of my classes deal with social problems and how they influence individuals and how that in turn influences society as a whole and so on. It’s very interesting and has made me think about things in a way I don’t think I would have before, and those are the kinds of conflicts I definitely want to try to weave into my stories even more in the future.
Tell me about your journey to publication.
When I first started looking into my options for publishing, independent publishing was the last thing I wanted to do. This was about six or seven years ago and the stigma of poor quality in self-publishing was a huge turn-off for me. I figured if I wasn’t “good enough” to land an agent and get accepted by a big, traditional publisher, it wasn’t worth doing. Several years passed and I started to do some more research. I read books by indie authors and realized that many of them were just as good as (or even better than) traditionally published books. I interacted with those authors and began to understand their reasons for going the indie route, even if I didn’t fully agree with all of those reasons at the time. A couple more years passed and I continued to interact with the indie author community. By the time I had polished my novel and began thinking about publishing more seriously, it just seemed like the best option for me.
Where did you draw your inspiration for your debut novel, Secrets of PEACE?
Inspiration for Secrets of PEACE came from a lot of different places, but the most influential was probably the first Assassin’s Creed game. I really liked some of the ideas it explored about when killing could be justified and how secret acts of violence might be used to protect people. The ending was also very influential; anyone who has played the game and read the book can probably see some parallels there, but I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t. Anyway, I finished the game and then started brainstorming ideas for what would eventually become Secrets of PEACE that very same night.
I saw on your website that you’re working on a children’s book called Cody’s Wild West Adventure. What can you tell me about it?
Cody was something I originally wrote for my high school senior project. It felt like a safe project that could be relatively fun, and I knew I could definitely put in all the hours that were required for graduation. I learned a lot about the whole process of writing picture books while doing that project (it’s a lot more complicated than I thought it would be), but it was never totally finished. Then I graduated, went to college, and kind of put the whole thing behind me. It was something I always said I would finish “someday,” but it probably would have just stayed in a dusty file on my computer forever if my husband hadn’t encouraged me to finish it last year. I tightened the story, polished the writing, and began working on new illustrations. The writing is completely done, but the illustrations are much more time-consuming and are currently a little more than half finished. The story is about a little mouse named Cody who goes to a town called Lucky Springs, where the locals are having trouble with a nasty rattlesnake and his band of outlaws. It’s a lot of fun, so I hope kids will enjoy reading it just as much as I have enjoyed writing and illustrating it.
What is your most challenging aspect of writing?
I struggle with first drafts. I love outlining and I love revising/editing, but those first, full drafts of the story are always a little frustrating. I think it’s just the fact that I know the story isn’t living up to his full potential. I always feel a lot better about things once I have a chance to go back in there and clean it all up.
What’s the happiest moment you’ve lived as an author?
I’ve had a couple of really good author moments. One happened last year after I sent one of my short stories to an anthology. At the time, I was really struggling with my writing. I had just shelved Secrets of PEACE indefinitely after pouring more than four years of my heart and soul into it, so that was depressing, and I just felt like I wasn’t going anywhere. I started submitting short stories just to have something else to focus on, so when the editor of that anthology sent me an email saying they liked the story and wanted to hold it for further consideration, I was ecstatic. They were kind enough to offer some great advice on revisions I might make, which I did happily. Ultimately, they ended up rejecting the story, but it was a huge and much-needed confidence boost.
The second one happened just after Secrets of PEACE was published. Someone started reading it and kept messaging me on Facebook throughout the day with her reactions to whatever part she was on at the time. She finished the whole book that same day, and it was so fun to talk to her about my characters and to see someone else nearly as excited about them as I am. If that’s all I ever get out of this self-publishing experience, it will have been well worth it.
Who is your biggest supporter?
There are a couple of people I have to give credit to here. The first is my long-time critique partner and fellow indie author, EJ Fisch, who has always seemed to perfectly understand the stories I’m trying to tell and has offered incredibly valuable insight over the years. I don’t think I’d be the writer I am today without her help, and I definitely wouldn’t have survived the publishing experience without her walking me through it. The second is my husband. He’s not much of a reader and has only read a few of my shorter stories (or rather, he’s made me read them to him), but he’s very supportive in other ways. He always encourages me to keep pursuing my goals, whether those are writing-related goals or career goals or whatever else I might want to do. He picks me up on the bad, rejection-letter days and celebrates every success with me. He’s also a great resource when it comes to writing about guns, which appear frequently in Secrets of PEACE. If he doesn’t know the answer right away, he can always point me in the right direction, which saves me a lot of time and frustration. It’s awesome to have that kind of support system and I’m super lucky to have both of them.
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, what is your Hogwarts house and why?
I am a Harry Potter fan! I’ve always been sorted into Hufflepuff, which was kind of disappointing to me at first, but now I can definitely see how I fit there. Hufflepuffs are described as being loyal, just, kind, and hardworking. All of those traits are things I strive for in my own life and that I admire in other people. I also feel like I’m pretty good at understanding others without passing judgment and seeing things from another person’s point of view. Taking all of that into consideration, it’s easier for me to see now why I might belong in Hufflepuff.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
If I’m not writing in my spare time, I’m usually drawing. I also enjoy and will seek out good stories in all forms, whether that’s through reading, watching movies and TV shows, or playing video games. This summer, I got a little motorcycle and learned to ride it, so that’s one of my favorite things to do now as well.
Where can we find you on social media?
Nearly 30 years ago, the PEACE Project rose from the ruins of a global war to take power over a new America. Providing stability in exchange for absolute authority, the Project controls every aspect of citizens’ lives through each of its five units:
T. A. Hernandez grew up with her nose habitually stuck in a book and her mind constantly wandering to make-believe worlds full of magic and adventure. She began writing stories after reading J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings for the first time at age 10. Thankfully, her writing has improved significantly since then, though she will happily admit that she has much more to learn and is looking forward to a long and (hopefully) productive journey in her Quest to Tell Better Stories.
She is the proud mother of two girls and a college student working towards her degree in social work. She also enjoys drawing, playing video games, watching anime, and making happy memories with her family and friends.
Huge thanks to T.A. Hernandez for sharing with us! If you’re interested in being featured on Writer Wednesday, send me an email at email@example.com.